Saturday, March 24, 2018

The resemblance is striking

I'm sure many readers have already seen this image of left-wing/progressive media darling David Hogg giving a Nazi- style salute during today's anti-gun rallies.

Quite apart from the unpleasant connotations of that salute, there's also his impassioned calls for Fascistic, unilateral abrogation of people's constitutional rights.  I couldn't help but be reminded of someone else.

Ah, yes.  A definite resemblance, I'd say . . . both personal and political.


Your car as a nanny

Eric Peters points out that most modern vehicles have become nannies - and we can't switch them off.

One of the reasons for liking old cars is they don’t try to parent you. The new stuff won’t quit trying to.

The 2018 VW Golf GTI I am reviewing this week, for instance. When you put the transmission in Reverse, the radio’s volume’s is peremptorily turned down – apparently because someone decided it wasn’t saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe to back up while listening to the radio.

. . .

Speaking of door locks . . . .

They are just as peremptory. Some can be programmed not to be – but the default is uber peremptory. As soon as you get in and close the door, it locks. All locks. Some cars are incredibly aggressive about allowing access to the car, denying the owner access to the trunk or rear cargo area unless he very deliberately unlocks the locks, which the car slammed shut without him having asked it to.

Again, for saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety.

. . .

It’s one thing – an acceptable thing – for a car company to include a feature it thinks may be helpful. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s another thing when the feature isn’t wanted – and you can’t countermand the “help.”

This is, however, the new Nudge way of doing things. The mother-in-law you can’t make shut up or kick to the curb.


. . .

Old cars – those made prior to early 2000s – are largely free of all this stuff. Those made prior to the ’90s are completely free of this stuff. Driving one of those cars is an almost startling experience, if you only have experience with newer cars. You are in charge – of everything. The car simply does as it’s told.

There's more at the link.

I can't help but agree with him.  When I started driving, way back when, many cars still had lap belts only - no shoulder seatbelts.  There were no warning gongs, bings, bangs or booms at all, unless your engine happened to blow up (which was definitely an attention-getter!)  I suppose busybody regulators and lawsuits by the "Someone's gotta pay!" crowd are to blame for the change.  Miss D.'s and my present vehicles, dating from 2006 and 2005 respectively, are annoying in their noisy insistence that we buckle up RIGHT NOW when we turn the key.  However, they're mild in comparison to some modern contraptions, which I'm informed won't let you start up at all unless you first buckle up.  I haven't come across such a vehicle myself, and I hope I never do!  You can rest assured I won't be buying one.

Perhaps it's time to consider keeping my 13-year-old truck running at almost any cost, just to be free of all the "nannyisms" inflicted on their drivers by later-generation cars . . .


"Naval Air: A Disaster Of Epic Proportions"

That's the title of an article at Strategy Page, analyzing in some depth the apparent failure of the US Navy's new aircraft carrier catapult system.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

In February 2018 the U.S. Navy confirmed that it had major problems with the design and construction of its new EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) catapult installed in its latest aircraft carrier; the USS Ford (CVN 78) and the three other Ford class carriers under construction.

. . .

An EMALS catapult was supposed to have a breakdown every 4,100 launches but in heavy use EMALS actually failed every 400 launches. By the end of 2017 the navy concluded that an EMALS equipped carrier had only a seven percent chance of successfully completing a typical four day “surge” (multiple catapult launches for a major combat operation) and only a 70 percent chance of completing a one day surge operation. That was because when one EMALS catapult went down all four were inoperable. In effect the Ford class carriers are much less capable of performing in combat than their predecessors.

With steam catapults when one went down the other three could continue to operate. Worse even minor repairs or maintenance on one catapult means all four had to be out of service. The navy hopes they can come up with some kind of, as yet unknown, modifications to EMALS to fix all these problems. In the meantime the new Ford carrier is much less useful than older ones that use steam catapults. In fact the Ford class carriers are basically worthless, except for training of the non-flight crew (which cannot function without reliable catapults).

There are no easy solutions. For example it would cost over half a billion dollars to remove EMALS and install the older steam catapults. This would also take up to several years and lead to many other internal changes. The navy is now considering bringing a recently retired carrier back to active service as a stopgap because whatever the fix is it will not be quick or cheap. The most worrisome part of this is the apparent inability of navy ship building and design experts to come up with a solution for the problem they created. For the navy officers and civilian officials involved there is another problem. The current Secretary of Defense is a retired Marine Corps general who has a good idea of how the navy operates without being part of the navy (the Marine Corps and Navy are two separate services in the Department of the Navy). The marines have a well-deserved reputation for being less understanding about failure and in a situation like this a former marine general as Secretary of Defense is very bad news for the navy officers responsible for creating, sustaining and being unable to fix this EMALS disaster.

. . .

Without a functional EMALS the steam and electricity generation system of the Ford class carriers, designed to supply large quantities of electric power, would not be able to provide the needed quantities of electricity to operate powerful new weapons like rail guns and high powered lasers as well as EMALS.

The EMALS disaster calls into question the ability of the navy to handle new, untried, technologies. That is not a new problem and has been around since World War II. In retrospect not enough was done to test and address what are now obvious problems. The current solution is to delay the moment of truth as long as possible and then conclude that it was unclear exactly how it happened but that measures would be taken to see that it never happen again. That approach is wearing thin because more people are well aware that is just a cover for the corruption and mismanagement that has been developing within the industries that build warships. The U.S. Navy has been having a growing number of similar problems (the design of the LCS, the DDG 1000 and a lot of smaller systems).

There's much more at the link.  It's a long, but very interesting analysis.  Recommended reading.

This is going to add fuel to the debate over whether or not large aircraft carriers are worth having at all.  There's no denying their utility in areas where land-based air facilities are poor or non-existent.  They can deploy the equivalent of a USAF group to a combat zone, provided that anti-ship defenses are not a major threat.  Such capabilities can be (and historically have proven to be) very useful indeed.  However, the threats facing carrier battle groups today are greater than in the past, and more pressing.  In particular, massed missile attacks might overwhelm them, saturating their defenses with so many targets that they don't have time (or sufficiently capable systems) to shoot them all down before some strike home.  Anti-ship missiles have become so prevalent, and so (relatively) low-cost, that even a smaller nation (e.g. Iran) can afford to site a hundred or more of them along its coastline, particularly in areas where enemy naval forces are forced by geographic constraints to sail within range of that coast (e.g. the Strait of Hormuz).  Even terrorist groups have used them successfully (Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Houthi rebels in Yemen).

I don't believe today's US Navy battle group could fight off a hundred or more anti-ship missiles arriving almost simultaneously.  I suspect at least half, probably more, would get through.  One missile wouldn't shut down a carrier, or even one of its escorts;  but hits from one or two dozen of them?  That's a whole new ball game.  New weapons such as the electromagnetic rail gun and laser "cannon" are supposed to offer a solution to this problem;  but both are still in development, and unlikely to be in widespread service for at least another decade.  No existing combat vessel has them, and those already built will require extensive modification (and probably significant electricity generating capacity upgrades) before they can operate them.  They'll add to the cost and complexity of warships, and their reliance on copious supplies of electricity may itself be a serious weakness.  If an electromagnetic pulse weapon can disable power to part of a city (as demonstrated with the CHAMP project - see the video clip below - and equivalent projects under way in other countries), it can do the same to a warship or group of warships, as can a high-altitude nuclear explosion within a radius of several hundred miles.  What price their electrically powered weapons then?

There's also the real risk posed by modern submarines, which are less easy to detect and more capable than ever before.  A Chinese diesel-electric submarine has already handed an unpleasant surprise to a US Navy carrier battle group.  What if it had fired torpedoes instead of surfacing?  Another incident in 2015 suggests that such encounters are not isolated incidents.

My personal opinion is that, if the carrier situation is as screwed up as the Strategy Page article suggests, it may be time for the USN to suspend further carrier constriction until it can guarantee that all the systems on its new Ford class ships work (including EMALS), and it's conducted shock testing on the first of the class to certify that they can stand up to combat conditions.  Otherwise, we may be throwing good taxpayer money after bad.  In time of war, that may perhaps be excusable;  but in time of peace, and in our present tight economic conditions, that's simply unacceptable.

It may also be time to re-evaluate whether large carriers are still a worthwhile investment.  As I said earlier, their tactical and even strategic value is unquestionable, provided they are able to operate in the face of modern defenses.  If they aren't . . . what then?  Would more, smaller carriers be an option, so that losing a single carrier wouldn't wipe out so much of the US Navy's air capability?  Would it be better to consider unmanned aerial attack forces that could be based further away, even on land masses a thousand miles or more away from the combat zone?  USAF UAV's over Afghanistan are already being flown by crews stationed in Nevada, USA.  Could something similar offer sufficient capability to replace aircraft carriers?

I suspect part of the problem is the mindset of senior US Navy officers.  Carrier command, or command of a carrier air wing, has been one of, if not the dominant, traditional route to admiral's stars (hence the jokes sometimes heard about the "carrier mafia").  Even if further investigation suggests it may be appropriate, will senior officers be prepared to embrace alternatives to the carrier?  One wonders.


Friday, March 23, 2018

The social media scam

Karl Denninger has two excellent articles showing how social media (Facebook in particular, but also all, repeat, ALL other "big social" sites out there - Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all) are monitoring and "monetizing" you.

In the first article, "The REAL Social Media SCAM", he states:

So let's assume you're Facesucker.  You make it "easy" for site owners to put "likes" and even use sign-on features from Facebook's authentication on your page.  Say, you're a newspaper.

Ok, so I go to www.mylocalnews.dirtbag/my-local-jackass-city-council.html.

As the page loads it requests the "like" buttons from Facebook for the articles, and in addition requests the sign-in box for comments.  Both of those generate a request to Facebook's computers and in that request is the exact URL I am reading -- that is, from where the request came.

Now here's the important part: If I have signed into Facebook at any time in the past from that device then the company has stored one or more cookies on my machine that uniquely identify me.  Since the request to Facebook's servers match the place where the cookie came from they now get the exact article I was reading and my identity even though I did not sign into Facebook to read the article.  I have given no consent to this, I cannot opt out of it and every single place on the Internet that has these buttons and/or sign-on boxes causes this to happen.

What's even worse is that I don't have to actually have signed into Facebook, ever, or even have an account in order for this to occur.  The first time that request goes to Facebook if there are no cookies sent Facebook can assign me one and check my browser's characteristics, including the IP address I'm coming from.  I now am "branded", in that the same cookie will be used to track me forever, and if I at any time in the future sign into Facebook or otherwise use any of their facilities I will then retroactively associate all of that browsing data with my person.

Now you know why Facebook allows (for "free") the user of the OAUTH sign-on facility and promotes "like" buttons all over the web.  It is not about increasing your social experience.

It is about snooping on everything you do online so they can sell and use that data without your knowledge or consent and in fact it is impossible for you to give prior consent because you have no idea the buttons are there before you visit the page!

There's more at the link.

In the second article, "The OTHER Half Of The Social Scam", he goes on:

I know what you're thinking -- I'll just turn off "third party cookies" and all will be ok (in relation to my previous article.)

. . .

But ... this doesn't work.

The reason is an HTTP field called an "Etag."

. . .

The [Etag] can be attached to any resource, although it's usually attached to images.  The server sends down an Etag: field with the image in the HTTP headers, which is an opaque identifier.  In other words, from the browser's point of view it does not care what the string is; it doesn't represent a time, date, or anything other than a promise from the server that it shall change if the content has changed and needs to be re-sent.

If this sounds like a cookie that's because it can be abused to become one, and you cannot shut it off unlike cookies!

So let's say you disable third-party cookies.  Fine, you think.  Nope.

I have a "Like" button.  Said button has an image.  That image is the finger pointing up, of course, and you must transfer it at least once.  I send an Etag with it, but instead of it being a change index it's unique to you!

Now, every single time you request the button you send the Etag for the image.  If it hasn't changed (and it basically never will, right -- it's an upturned finger!) I send back "Not modified".  Except.... I just pinned to you, personally, that access to the page and you have third-party cookies turned  off!

So I send back "Not modified" but you just told me who you are, what web page you were viewing, and your browser ID and IP address.

I get all of this for every page you visit where such a button or function is present even if you never use it.

. . .

What this means is that you can be tracked specifically and individually, as you personally, with knowledge of who you are, where you are, when you clicked it and exactly what page you looked at, whenever you visit a page that has any such thing on it without your knowledge or consent should any such resource be included in that page.

Again, more at the link.

I highly recommend clicking over to Mr. Denninger's blog and reading both articles in full.  They illustrate how little, if any, online privacy we have these days.  That's why I have one browser set up to block all cookies, block trackers, block advertisements, block Flash and anything else obtrusive, etc.  I use it to visit sites I don't know or don't trust.  If the site won't load because I'm blocking too much, I don't load it.  Why give them free access to track my Web use?  It's none of their business!

(That's also why there are no advertisements on my blog.  I don't know what they'll serve up in the way of cookies, Etags, etc. - so I won't allow them here.)


Good news! The Home is back on the Range!

Fellow blogger, author and friend in meatspace and cyberspace, Brigid, has returned to active blogging.  She has a post up explaining what made her stop for a while.

Brigid's always been one of the more thoughtful and thought-provoking bloggers out there.  She has depths to her, and is able to express them poetically and poignantly.  If you've been a fan of hers in the past, you'll rejoice with me that she's back.  If you haven't read her work before, it's high time you did!

Click over to "Home on the Range" and bookmark it for future reference.


The (very) tangled web in Syria

The convoluted, twisted strands of who's fighting who, who's supporting who, and who's trying to stay relevant in Syria (and with whom) are almost nightmarish in their complexity.  Strategy Page does its best to describe the mess.

Iran, Russia, Turkey, the United States and Israel are all present in Syria along with the Assad government and a considerable number of Syrian rebel groups who are still not united. Everyone has different goals and a different (often constantly shifting) set of allies. Keeping track of who is doing what to whom and why (and for how long) has become increasingly difficult. A current summary of allies, foes, frenemies and chimeras goes like this;

Israel wants to keep Iran out of Syria and Lebanon and avoid a war with Iran. For this Israel has the support of the U.S., Russia and most Gulf Arab states. None of these supporters is willing to provide any military assistance, at least not until Iran actually attacks Israel.

Russia wants to get Turkey out of NATO, to keep the Iranians from starting a war with Israel and make the Americans look bad. At the same time Russia needs to do this on the cheap and make Russia look good, especially to Russians back home. That is proving difficult as most Russians were not enthusiastic about the Syrian operation in the first place and popular support has been declining. Israel sees Russia as being of limited use because of the Russian strategy. Moreover Russia is not as militarily powerful as it pretends to be. Privately the Russians agree with Israel on that and appreciate any help the Israelis can provide in this area.

Turkey wants to create a security zone on the Syrian side of the border that has no Kurds or Islamic terrorists in it. Turkey also wants to show the Sunni Moslem world that it can handle Iranian aggression (without going to war with Iran) and keep the Israelis out of Lebanon and Syria. Turkey is willing to play diplomatic games with Russia and Iran to achieve these goals as well as send troops into Syria to fight, and get killed. Turkey also likes to play (or pretend) tough with Israel. Turkish military experts know better but many Turkish politicians are clueless and that is very dangerous in this part of the world.

The U.S. wants to ensure that ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) does not reestablish itself in Syria. To help with that the American are doing what they can to help the local Kurds maintain autonomy in northeast Syria (east of the Euphrates) where the Kurds have always been dominant. Secondary objectives are keeping Iran, Turley and Russia out of Syria. The U.S. and Israel are allies and any attack on Israel will trigger American intervention on the Israeli side. But short of that the Americans are quite blunt about stating that their troops are in Syria to deal with terrorists, not Iranian preparations for an attack on Israel. The Americans will not stop Kurds in the northeast from going to the aid of Kurds defending Afrin. The Turks asked the Americans to stop the Kurds and the U.S. refused. 

There's more at the link.

The same article has some interesting insights into the internal situation in Israel, Iran and other Middle Eastern nations.  Recommended reading.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Is Big Brother now in the dentist's office?

I was astonished - and angry - to see this letter posted on Gab.  Click the image for a larger view.

I was absolutely dumbfounded at the thought that any medical practitioner would use the law to threaten its customers.  If it's authentic, this letter appears to represent nothing more or less than legalized extortion.  "Pay us money for services you may not even need, or else!"  However, I don't know if the letter is real or not.  It isn't signed, and there's no return address on the letterhead - both of which I'd expect on that sort of communication.

I looked up Smiles4Keeps online.  It appears to be a dental practice in Pennsylvania, with three offices, and its Web site uses the same logo as that shown above.  There's no indication of which of its three offices may have sent that letter.  Can any readers in or near Bartonsville, Scranton or Wilkes-Barre confirm whether or not this letter is the real thing?  If it is, then the practice needs to hear from a lot of very angry customers - and so do Pennsylvania lawmakers!  If it isn't, then the practice needs to know that someone's spreading disinformation about them.

If you can help clarify the situation, please post in Comments below.  Thanks.


EDITED TO ADD:  OK, it's authentic.  Courtesy of commenter Brigid, we find that the practice posted an explanation - but NOT an apology - on its Facebook page.  Personally, I find their arguments unconvincing and self-serving.  Others may differ.  Suffice it to say, if I'm ever in that vicinity, I'll seek children's dental care from anyone EXCEPT Smiles4Keeps!

Doofus Of The Day #1,002

A tip o' the hat to Wirecutter for spotting this first.  Today's award for Doofidity goes to the gardener responsible.

The fire department's going to spank him (or her) so hard . . .


Apple progress - and a nifty computer gadget

As I mentioned some weeks ago, I've been considering buying an Apple computer system for use with Vellum, a desktop publishing program.  After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing (including the use of an old Apple computer donated for testing purposes by friend and fellow author Cedar Sanderson, for which I'm very grateful to her), I decided to go with a Mac Mini, the cheapest entry level system.  Following reader advice in that first post, I bought a lower-cost Apple-refurbished and -guaranteed computer.  I've been setting it up this week, and I'm enjoying the learning curve.  After so many years (over 4 decades!) using IBM mainframes, DEC minicomputers and PC-architecture personal computers, this is a new departure for me (of which more later).

The Mac Mini comes without keyboard, mouse or monitor, which is why it's relatively low-priced compared to the rest of the Apple range.  Fortunately, I had all those components already.  However, I'm also still using an HP laptop computer, and have other PC-architecture systems in the house.  I don't expect to become an Apple-only or PC-only household anytime soon.  That means there's the potential clutter of multiple keyboards, mice, etc. on an already crowded desktop - not ideal, particularly when I have reference books open, and other things that need space of their own.

I was therefore very pleased to come across this USB switch selector on

It allows you to connect up to 4 USB-interface peripherals to one side of the box.  I've plugged in a corded keyboard and mouse, a laser printer and a scanner.  On the other side of the box are two more USB connector sockets, which you can connect to two different computers.  By pushing the button on top of the selector, you can use all the peripherals with either computer (but not both at the same time).

Using this little box, I now have all four peripherals working happily with both my Mac Mini and my PC-architecture laptop.  All I had to do was make sure that the appropriate device drivers were loaded on each computer for the printer and scanner.  It's very nice to have one of everything, instead of two - not to mention taking up a lot less desktop real estate!  I simply power up the computer I want to use (or both of them), and use the selector button to direct the peripherals to the one that needs them.  I can even swap back and forth between them in mid-use, just by pushing the button.  Very useful indeed.  For mobile computing, I unplug the laptop from the switch selector and go on my way, using its own keyboard and touchpad while on the road.  (I can also use them while it's plugged into the switch selector, of course, which has come in handy a couple of times.)

I'm enjoying learning how to use Apple's operating system and software.  They're reasonably intuitive, so I haven't had any major problems, and there are plenty of articles, tutorials and videos online to provide any help I need.  I'm starting to understand why Apple fans so strongly prefer their systems.  I've heard more than one say that they want to do things with their computer rather than to it, and that's why Apple is "better".  I'm beginning to agree with them.  The Apple OS requires considerably less tinkering to get it where I want it, and it takes care of a lot of stuff behind the scenes that I'm used to doing "manually" under Windows.  I'm impressed.  Also, much of the software I use (LibreOffice, Private Internet Access, Dropbox, Dashlane, etc.) is available in MacOS versions, making the transition easy.  The only one I miss so far is Irfanview, which doesn't have a Mac version.  I'll have to find something similar to replace it on the Apple system.  (GIMP isn't really a suitable replacement - it's a lot more complex and difficult to navigate.  I want something powerful, but simple, without a major learning curve.  I'm a writer, not a graphic artist!)

It's too early to say yet, but I might be tempted in due course to transition entirely to Apple hardware and software, and move away from the PC altogether.  Being my own boss as a writer and not having to run an employer's PC-specific software, I have that flexibility.  I never thought I'd say that (yes, I've joked about Apples and their fanbois for many years, along with the rest of the computer world), but now that I'm actually using an Apple computer, I'm enjoying it very much.  We'll see what the next year or two brings. (I can hear the catcalls now . . . "Come over to the dark side!  We have Apples!")


A four-room, 800-sq-ft house for under $4,000, built in one day?

If this can be successfully "industrialized" and manufactured on a large scale, it'll be one of the greatest advances in the fight against poverty ever achieved.

Incredible houses printed from cement could help to end the global housing crisis, according to the company behind their creation.

The properties, which are currently at the concept stage, will soon be used to provide safe shelter for people in El Salvador and could one day be expanded worldwide to house billions.

The homes currently cost £7,200 ($10,000) to construct and take up to 24 hours to build, but for the production version this cost should be reduced to around £2,900 ($4,000).

They could also offer a viable option for the construction of off-world colonies on planets like Mars in the near future, the firm says.

. . .

The company's Vulcan printer is used to create the properties, which can be built as large as 800 sq ft (75 sq ft) - around twice as large as the average 'tiny house' and comparable to one-bedroom apartment sizes in cities like New York and London. 

There's more at the link, including lots of photographs.

Here's a brief video showing how the house is constructed of "printed" cement layers.

They're larger than many shacks in most shanty towns;  and, for a large family, it would be no problem to build two of them side-by-side.  As for utilities and services, that's a much larger job, and probably more expensive than the houses themselves;  but given affordable housing costs, that's not an insoluble problem.  Best of all, being built of cement, these are likely to be relatively safe against wind and weather, even hurricanes or nearby tornadoes.  The roof may go, of course, but that can be mounted with stronger bracing to keep it attached except in the worst conditions.

All round, this is an excellent start.  Anyone who's traveled and lived in the Third World will instantly recognize how important this is;  and, for that matter, it could revolutionize "starter" homes here in the USA for lower-income households.  Full marks to everyone involved for a really good idea, and making it work so well, so far.  Onward!


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A very carefully chosen acronym?

It is to laugh . . .

The US Army is testing something called MEHEL, standing for "Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser".  Here's a video explaining it.

I suspect the word "Expeditionary" was hurriedly added to the title . . . after someone realized that without it, the obvious acronym would be MOHEL.


The hidden soul of Japan - the 47 Ronin

I've known the story of the 47 Ronin since my teens.  It's one of the most profound Japanese "factual myths", and has shaped and formed the nation.  However, many Westerners don't understand why that is, or why it should be.

Video blogger and former astronaut Chris Hadfield has a very interesting YouTube channel, Rare Earth.  In a series about Japan, he began by examining the legend of the 47 Ronin and trying to explain it to a Western audience.  I think he did a pretty good job.  Here it is.

I think that's one of the best explanations I've ever seen or heard of the myth that grew up around the 47 Ronin.  The rest of the series about Japan is worth watching, too, and I return to Mr. Hadfield's YouTube channel regularly to see what new videos he's produced.  Good stuff.


The electricity conundrum, present and future

Predicting electricity supply and demand is proving to be problematic.  Vox reports:

Demand for electricity is stagnant.

Thanks to a combination of greater energy efficiency, outsourcing of heavy industry, and customers generating their own power on site, demand for utility power has been flat for 10 years, and most forecasts expect it to stay that way ... This historic shift has wreaked havoc in the utility industry in ways large and small, visible and obscure.

. . .

Utilities have been frantically adjusting to this new normal. The generation utilities that sell into wholesale electricity markets (also under pressure from falling power prices; thanks to natural gas and renewables, wholesale power prices are down 70 percent from 2007) have reacted by cutting costs and merging. The regulated utilities that administer local distribution grids have responded by increasing investments in those grids.

But these are temporary, limited responses, not enough to stay in business in the face of long-term decline in demand. Ultimately, deeper reforms will be necessary.

. . .

Only when the utility model fundamentally changes — when utilities begin to see themselves primarily as architects and managers of high-efficiency, low-emissions, multidirectional electricity systems rather than just investors in infrastructure growth — can utilities turn in earnest to the kind [of] planning they need to be doing.

There's more at the link.

In one sense, this is good, I suppose.  We're using more electrically powered things than ever, from smartphones to computers to TV's to electric cars.  However, most of them have gotten much "smarter" at how much electricity they need and how economically they use it, so the explosion in devices has not increased the demand for power.  Kudos to the engineers involved.  (Frankly, I'm surprised.  I'd have thought the increasing number of electric devices, particularly electric cars and their charging stations, would have had the opposite effect.)

However, it's also a real problem for all of us for the future.  Basically, new electricity generating plants are paid for by the profits made by electricity suppliers.  (Sure, they'll usually take out loans or sell bonds to pay the construction costs, but they pay those off using future profits, so it amounts to the same thing.)  If they can't be assured of ongoing profit (let alone profit increases), sufficient to both pay off old debts and incur (and pay off) new ones, how are they going to afford to replace older, less efficient plants - and those that are simply wearing out - with new ones?  The new technology of electricity generation is supposed to be more efficient and ecologically friendly, but it's also expensive.

To make matters worse, "green" energy sources such as wind turbines, solar energy, etc. are subject to wind and weather.  If they can't provide power because there's no wind or too much cloud, there have to be "traditional" (and expensive) generating plants available to take up the slack.  Alternatively some form of storage (for example, Tesla's Powerwall) to retain (and later use) power generated during windy and/or sunny periods will be needed.  Such storage has to be paid for by home and business owners, putting the cost burden on their shoulders rather than the generating utility's.  That's not going to be popular.

There's also the issue of what happens when distributed generating systems are affected by disasters.  A hurricane will take down wind turbines, solar panels, etc. in the blink of an eye, and also disrupt power lines bringing in power from elsewhere.  A solar flare might affect such generating facilities, whether domestic, commercial or industrial, over an entire continent, particularly things like solar panels.  What happens if we get used to generating at least some of our power needs locally, only to find those facilities suddenly damaged or destroyed?  Will a distant utility have the reserve capacity to supply our needs, and even if it does, will the power distribution network still exist to get it to where it's needed?  At present, that's largely the case.  In future, with the disruption that stagnant or decreasing power demand is likely to cause in the industry, it can't be guaranteed.

This issue has opened a very large can of worms.  Definitely food for thought.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Heh - doggy edition

Found on Gab (clickit to biggit):

I think I've met that dog, more than once!


A new science fiction series from Jon del Arroz

Fellow author and blogger Jon del Arroz has just released 'The Stars Entwined', the first book in a new military science fiction series.

The blurb reads, in part:

After several recent attacks along the border of Aryshan space, internal affairs agent Sean Barrows is brought to Palmer Station to ensure the Interplanetary Navy’s on the right track in their terrorism investigations. What he discovers could lead to the biggest war the galaxy has ever seen. Sean’s work leads him to his most dangerous assignment yet—into the heart of Aryshan territory as a spy.

Meanwhile, Aryshan Commander Tamar is being groomed by the Ruling Committee to one day assume leadership of her people. First, she needs to prove herself in warship command. As tensions increase with Earth, Tamar finds herself increasingly isolated as one of the few in opposition to the war. Her troubles deepen when she comes face to face with a new member of her crew, the most intriguing man she’s ever encountered.

Jon and I have corresponded for some time, and we met at LibertyCon last year.  I had the pleasure of recommending him to Vox Day to write the novelizations of some forthcoming comics.  I'm looking forward to reading his latest book.

By the way, Jon:  your surname, in Spanish, means 'rice'.  Does that mean that with your new series, you've proved you can 'rice' to the occasion?  Or does that go against the grain?


Learning a lot about my body, and about pain

As many readers will know, I suffered a work-related back injury in 2004.  After two surgeries, I was left with a fused spine and permanent damage to my sciatic nerve.  I've been in constant pain, 24/7/365, since the date of injury, with just one glorious, all-too-brief break in 2005, when I was given an epidural injection of steroids to see if it would reduce inflammation in my spine.  (It didn't.)  A spinal anesthetic was part of the treatment, which numbed everything below my waist, including the damaged nerve.  That was the last time I remember being pain-free.  It's been my constant companion since then.

I've tried many things to control the pain, and live my life despite it.  They've ranged from cocktails of various prescription narcotics, through physiotherapy, to actually seriously considering cutting the damaged nerve and (if necessary) amputating the affected limb.  (That didn't go anywhere.)  The medical advice I was given was, in so many words, to "suck it up" and accept it.  Unfortunately, that led to other complications, including a severe drug interaction between some of the medications I was prescribed, leading to massive weight gain and major metabolic problems.  It hasn't been fun.

Eventually, I got fed up with doing what the doctors were telling me.  It was killing me slowly.  I had to find a better way.  For the past nine months I've basically thrown my doctors' recommendations out of the window and followed my own path.  It's led to increased pain, but also increased mastery of my own body, and for the first time in a long time I'm feeling relatively human again.

The core of my new approach has been strength training at Mark Rippetoe's gymnasium, following the Starting Strength program.  It hasn't been easy, and my progress has been much slower than "normal" beginners, but from the perspective of one who's been half-crippled for a long time, it's been nothing short of remarkable.  I owe Mark and his coaches, particularly Carmen, a huge debt of gratitude for taking me on, with all my challenges and difficulties, and helping me to overcome them.

Despite my early progress, I began to find, a couple of months ago, that I was hitting a wall.  My damaged sciatic nerve and its associated problems were causing me more and more pain as I pushed them further and further.  I couldn't see a way past this, until I asked for the help of a chiropractor who also attends Mark's gym.  He understands the mechanics of our exercises from personal experience, and can therefore use his training and education to analyze, diagnose and help solve the issues that have been holding me back.

What's emerged is that pain such as mine - centered around damaged nerves and skeletal structure - has far more wide-reaching effects than I'd ever considered.  The sciatic nerve, when irritated and inflamed, affects muscles all around it, up and down the leg.  (See, for example, piriformis syndrome, one of my difficulties.)  Those muscles, in turn, when irritated, exert an unhealthy influence on other muscles to which they're attached.  I'd never considered that my diaphragm might be overstressed by a thigh muscle, but that's apparently one of the problems I've been having;  and because the diaphragm was overstressed, it was pulling ribs out of alignment, which was affecting my spine above the fusion site, which was . . . you get the idea.

I've got a long way to go yet, but I'm already seeing light at the end of the tunnel.  If the strained, overstressed muscles affected by my nerve damage can be relaxed, they'll stop pulling other muscles and skeletal components out of alignment, and I'll hopefully be able to break through the "plateau" I seem to have hit in strengthening my body, and move on to the next level.  This isn't reducing my nerve pain - in fact, it's greatly increasing it during treatment! - but it's helping me to understand just how various elements in my body interact (or fail to do so) under the impact of nerve pain.  I'll still have to rely on painkillers, but better posture, greater ease of movement, and a more smoothly functioning body should help me stay mobile and healthy for much longer than would otherwise have been the case.

If I hadn't embarked on this journey, I think I'd have been in a wheelchair before long, and perhaps bedbound a year or two after that . . . and it's very hard to come back once one accepts those restrictions.  I'd much rather live with greater pain, and push myself, and remain as healthy as possible.  I'd therefore like to encourage any of my readers who are also in constant pain, to consider pushing their limits as far as they're able to go.  It may be difficult physically, but it may also help you bear your burdens and regain some of your humanity.  IMHO, that's worth the cost.  I also think it's a heck of a lot healthier to do that than to simply increase one's medication level, and let the medical system consign you to early oblivion!  That's the easy way out, but you end up a physical and mental vegetable.  I can't - I won't - accept that.

This is also helping me to write more, and hopefully better as well.  I'm almost finished a military science fiction trilogy that I began on the spur of the moment last December, and I'm looking forward to bringing it out soon.  If my increased productivity continues, I'll be able to produce more work, and earn a better living for myself and Miss D. (who brings her own part as well, of course).  I hate the "soggy brain syndrome" that excessive pain produces in me.  If I can become healthier in body, then perhaps, in spite of the ongoing pain, I can have a healthier and more creative mind as well, as Juvenal put it.

Food for thought.  I hope it helps some of you who may suffer from similar issues.  In particular, if you're struggling with health issues that the medical profession doesn't seem able to solve, consider the Starting Strength program.  There are gyms offering training in many states, and online coaching is available if there's no gym in your area.  Miss D. and I can testify from our own experience that the program really is worth all the time, effort and money it will cost you.